Directed by Ridley Scott, starring Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Giancarlo Giannini & Ray Liotta

Watching 'Hannibal' it's hard not to feel a pang of sympathy for Ridley Scott and Julianne Moore. Making a sequel is one thing, trying to tackle one of the best villains in movie history is quite another. It may be ten years since the success of Jonathan Demme and Jodie Foster with 'Silence of the Lambs' and 14 since Michael Mann and William Petersen emerged with the first (and best) Lecter romp 'Manhunter', but people's hunger for the dinner guest from hell remains undiminished. So is it a case of tasty third helpings or just a plain old reheat?

The plot finds Lecter not so much hiding out as living it up in Florence, Italy. Now dining under the name of Dr Fell, he's disposed of the previous incumbent and taken up a position as the high profile curator of a museum. On the other side of the world, his psychological plaything Agent Starling (Moore) has fallen on hard times. After making her name in the FBI with that first, legendary case, her career has taken a nosedive and a bloody, botched drug bust results in an inquiry led by Department of Justice ogre Paul Krendler (Liotta). Enter Mason Verger (an uncredited Gary Oldman), a former patient of Lecter's with friends – including Krendler - in very high places. Hideously disfigured during a house call, he is hell-bent on revenge and when greedy Italian policeman Pazzi (Giannini) offers information on the doctor's whereabouts, Verger looks to Starling as a means to capture Lecter.

For the first hour 'Hannibal' is the best piece of head bending entertainment to terrify an audience since David Fincher's 'Se7en'. With a sense of foreboding to rival anything from the Lecter's previous outings, Scott handles the bad doctor's sojourn in Florence superbly, building the character up as an anti-hero and shrouding him in dimly lit cafes, museums and sidestreets. Both Hopkins and Moore are excellent, the former investing his character with more humour and charm than 'Silence...', the latter delivering a world weary turn that holds its own alongside the previous interpretation of the heroine.

But when the action relocates to the US, the film loses much of its savage spark and looks like just an average thriller by any other director - Verger's over-elaborate revenge fantasy stomping all over the teasing game of cat and mouse that has preceded it. Given that so much emphasis was placed on the fact that the film had a different ending to the book, surely Scott could have taken a gamble and located the entire story in Italy? Instead, the remainder of the film plays out along conventional good/bad lines, Lecter assuming the mantle of avenging chef with bad guys served up in bloody (set) pieces, the finale recalling a visceral episode of the 'Twilight Zone'.

Scott was aiming for screams with 'Hannibal' and he's hit the mark with no small amount of style, but plenty will laugh at the absurdity of a plot that sees Lecter criss-cross the Atlantic to face the wrath of a victim that looks like a Muppet after an encounter with a scalpel. Perhaps Scott should have rented out 'Se7en' before he yelled 'action' - the best horror is often what you don't see.

Harry Guerin